Legislature(2009 - 2010)BUTROVICH 205
04/02/2009 01:00 PM LABOR & COMMERCE
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|Overview: Nenana Basin Gas Exploration Project by Doyon, Ltd. and Rampart Energy|
* first hearing in first committee of referral
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= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 163-MAXIMUM BENEFIT FROM FISHERMEN'S FUND 2:25:47 PM CHAIR PASKVAN announced SB 163 to be up for consideration. JAKE HAMBURG, staff to Senator Paskvan, said SB 163 updates the Alaska Fishermen's Fund limit to $10,000, which would bring the program back to providing a meaningful level of assistance as the payer of last resort for commercial fishermen and crew that sustain injuries while fishing. The Alaska Fishermen's Fund was established in 1951 to provide for the treatment and care of Alaska licensed commercial fishermen and crew who are injured while fishing onshore or offshore. The upper limit on claims in the fund has remained $2,500 since 1959. If this had been adjusted for the CPI it would be worth about $18,229 today. Health care costs have steadily risen and the fund is financed from revenue from each resident and non-resident commercial fishing license and permit fee. In 2008 there were 13,706 commercial fishing permit holders including 135 in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The account has grown to $11.5 million due in part to continuing improvements in fishing industry safety. 2:28:00 PM SENATOR BUNDE asked if the limit was $18,229 adjusted for inflation why they are only asking for $10,000. MR. HAMBURG replied that typical claims were looked at as well as a sustainable number for the fund to maintain and $10,000 seemed to be that number. 2:28:53 PM JERRY MCCUNE, United Fishermen of Alaska, said this is a dedicated fund on program receipts that go the Department of Revenue and is administered by Fishermen's Fund board and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD). The $10,000 is a place to start while looking at how many claims come in. He remarked that the previous amount of $2,500 was only worth $345 in today's prices. This would give a little certainty to the fishermen, the clinics and the hospitals to not have to go the appeals process to get funds. He explained that fishermen pay up to 39 percent or $50 as a permit holder, a crewman would pay $23.40 out of their crew license for a total of about $1 million per year. Administrative costs run $307 per claim. 2:31:13 PM SENATOR BUNDE said it seems like this is a trial balloon, and he asked if it doesn't negatively impact the fund, would they ask for a greater increase. C MR MCUNE replied that he would have to sit down with the board again and negotiate those numbers. Permit holders used to pay a bigger amount, for instance. He would have to look at ways of supplementing the fund more. It's true; they want to look at it for a couple of years first. 2:32:16 PM BOB THORSTENSON, Alaska Seine Boat Owners, supported SB 163. He illustrated the need for the increase by pointing out that he lost his front teeth when a big block hit him in the face a few years ago. Fixing it cost about $6,000 and there was a $2,500 cap. While he was able to make up the difference, a younger skipper with no savings would be badly burdened. Five years ago he lost part of his finger in another accident which cost another $6,000. He said the $2,500 as a limit is becoming more obsolete. He said they are working with the DOLWD and the Fishermen's Fund board on some other regulatory and administrative changes to make this an even better program. Commercial fishermen pay their own way, he pointed out. 2:35:33 PM JIM HERBERT, commercial fisherman from Seward, supported this bill. He served on the Fishermen's Fund Board for 12 years and thought this was a wise change. The essence of the program is fishermen helping fishermen. Over time they may see some changes but given his experience with the fund, he didn't think the changes would be drastic. It doesn't take much to spend $2,500 in the ER; this is something that can really benefit people. 2:37:01 PM CHAIR PASKVAN closed public testimony. 2:37:29 PM SENATOR THOMAS moved to report SB 163 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, the motion carried. 2:38:11 PM SENATOR PASKVAN said he felt it appropriate today on the 50th anniversary of statehood, that the committee should pass this bill, making the first change to the statute since statehood.